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When I left work today around ten after 5, the early evening bestowed two wonderful gifts on me: daylight and mild weather.

I work in a cubicle and rarely catch a glimpse of the outside world. For the past few months I’ve gotten used to popping my head up over my cube wall at 5 o’something and seeing nothing but black on the other side of the window.

Today there was still orange in the sky, and it was mild enough that I decided to take a 3-mile stroll around the 55+ housing development across the street from my office. I have taken post-work walks there during colder/darker times, but let me tell you, you are way less threatening walking around a senior housing development in a lightweight jacket and khakis in daylight than walking around the same development at the same time in a knee-length thick winter coat, hat, mouth-and-nose-masking scarf, and, oh, it’s pitch black out.

During the former scenario, I’m a healthy gal who likes to stretch her legs after a long day at the office; in the latter scenario, I’m a creepy darkly dressed voyeur staking out people’s homes. It was nice for once to walk around the complex after work and not have every motion sensor light flood me in white and to innocently glance at people’s houses without Lou and Edna thinking I’m peeping in their windows to see what kind of valuables they own.

The semi-lit evening got me really excited because it means eventually I’ll be able to return to Red Bank Battlefield Park for post-work walks. The park is an official national park and has strict hours–open at dawn, close at dusk, locked gates and everything. Because of the early sunsets, I haven’t been to the park in forever, and I look forward to once again visiting my planes, deer, and red-tailed hawks.

As thankful as I am for today’s springlike weather, I know we still have a long way to go before I permanently trade my Land’s End sleeping bag coat for a hoodie. I mean, (as I write this) it’s technically not even February yet! I give you Exhibit A, a blog post I had written last year on February 22:

Winter made me cry this morning. Partially due to PMS but mostly just plain ol’ hating the cold, I broke out in tears at approximately 8 a.m. as I was attempting to clean the snow off my car. Just 4 days ago we were basking in 70-degree sunlight, and now I was standing in my driveway, fingers going painfully numb, trying to clear 4 inches of snow off my Ford Focus. I accidentally closed my car door on my ice scraper, it snapped apart, and then I snapped along with it. Bryan finished the job as I wimpered inside, hands jammed under my armpits in an attempt to regain feeling.

Bottom line: Enjoy it while it lasts!!

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Five years ago on this day, we begin our day of silence, the Noble Retreat. So far, nothing really seems different. Everyone’s too tired to talk in the morning, and breakfast is already silent. However, now that I’m sitting here at breakfast, although everything is the same and nothing has changed, I am more aware of the silence. Maybe it’s the sunlight trying to peak through the clouds. Maybe it’s because Grace just led a very silent-based awareness class, but everything feels illuminated right now. Colors are more vibrant, the small sounds of clinking spoons, water gurgling, clunking bowls, whispers, and the music playing softly from the stereo are extremely titillating, arousing. Especially the music. “Amazing Grace” was just playing; now it’s a beautiful chant. The few sounds around me buoy me, lift my heart. Trying to find the stillness, the silence among noise is a challenge, but a gentle one.

I’m not sure whether to look super-serious as I do this silent endeavor or be happy and smile. I feel like smiling could inadvertently engage conversation, but just because I’m silent doesn’t mean I can’t communicate. I speak through my body; perhaps that affirmation will be strengthened today.

***

Grace’s sadhana was delicious as she helped us explore the marriage of movement and breath, since our breath is our only speaking friend today. A fun experiment was asking the class to do either sun breaths or bhastrika–but once you started, you had to stay in your chosen breath, trying to tune out the quick or slow breaths around you. It was definitely a challenge doing the slow and deliberate sun breaths as others noisily did bhastrika. Even vice versa was hard. There was a certain softness in the room I wanted to capture during my loud bhastrika.

After class, we are asked to journal on the following question: What does yoga mean to me now?

Yoga is breaking the barriers between mind, body, and spirit, not treating them as separate entities but seeing and living them as One. Yoga is acknowledging the Oneness in the world around me–I am not separate from these beings around me; they are all part of me, as I am part of them. Yoga is touching your true Self, touching it, observing it, playing with it, doing all these things before you embrace the Self. Finding your essence, your core, finding out that you–no, I–speak through movement. That is me, finding grace. Finding the light and the shadow and embracing them–honoring them, working your way through the light and darkness, breathing through the unknown, tip-toeing, jumping, leaping, into the wave, riding, riding, riding the wave.

***

Our student-teacher mantra is whole and strong, our Oms filled with a deep-rooted urge to make sound. We are permitted to chant Ganesha Sharanam again, loud, with instruments. It goes on forever, 15 minutes? So vibrant and delicious. I whirl and twirl to the chanting and drumming, the harmonium, the maracas, the sticks. I bow to the remover of all obstacles, I dance to the remover of all obstacles. I lose control, I gain control, a delicate dance of will and surrender. As the music slows, I fall to the floor on my knees and relish the stillness in my body. For once, I appreciate non-movement, inquiry, breath.

That is when we go outside for a silent nature walk; the natural stillness of the Berkshires such a maddening polarity of the noise we had just created.

Each crunch of a single leaf sounds like a tree falling in the forest. Standing on rocks sounds like icy snow under my shoes. Birds, cars, airplanes are the music. Engines humming. People sighing. People praying. People walking. People crying. Stuffy noses. Twigs snapping. My pen clicking. The gong ringing. A small waterfall’s trickle, reminding me of Tibet, the mountains, the waterfalls. The non-stop trickling of water. Bright moss, florescent green, yellow leaves among brown and bare. J.’s blue-green jacket near yellow leaves.

Pinecones and red berries. Small, miniature pinecones on the ground of the woods–makes me think of the holidays, home, warmth, love, family. No gifts, just warmth. Music, warmth, love, pinecones, and red berries.

***

We come inside from the late fall’s chill and do a blood-pumping vinyasa practice with Roger, earthy, primal root music vibrating off the walls and floor. I feel the flow before we even start, Mother Earth aching to erupt from my root, my bones. Ooooh, I want to mooooove. I feel the prana before Roger leads, and the incredible heat within only gets more intense as he goes along. Sun salutation after sun salutation, uttansana, utkatasana, burning, flowing, fire and water. My monkey mind slowly starts to disappear as prana resides in my circuits. We go into a side plank with the top leg up (something that’s always challenged me), but it comes naturally today: no mind, no will, just prana. Everything is illuminated; I feel like I’m looking at a Magic Eye book, my eyes drawn into the minute squares on my blue yoga mat. The throbbing, pulsing music becomes ingrained in my body. And then, meditation in motion:

Downdog splits, so high and wide, a camel so deep I thought my head was going to drop to the floor. I allowed my heart to reach up, my head to drop, for will to let the f*** go. A lunging Warrior that danced, a backbend that I’ve never done before, my spine fluid, my spine prana. A snake with no inhibitions. Hanumasana, rolling over into upavistha konasana, all flow, so deep. Up into that leg-on-the-upper-arm balance, no holding back, no deep preparation, just down and up. So much warmth, but not a hot “Oh my god, I just ran a mile” hot, but a deep, internal flame hot, the sweat that emerged from my pores was energy, passion, not overheated sweat. Gold. I felt illuminated.

We then move into pranayama, a difficult transition. I still had prana shaking in my ribs. I sat on my mat, dazed and woozy with santosha, as Roger handed out cushions. Kapalabhati, nadi shodhana, dirgha. The heat subsided. The energy dispersed from my center all over my body. No more kundalini, no more shakti. Contentment. Peace. We sat in meditation and my third eye pulsed, shapes swam in my third eye until all the gold and black movement cleared and made way for an expanse of dark blue, like a curtain opening to a beautiful stage of a royal blue backdrop. The stage was empty, and it was time to watch the show. I felt like I had entered another dimension until Rudy awakened us.

Afterwards, we are allowed to make noise again. We Om in a chorus, so loud and present. We do a round of the Birthday Song for L., and I am taken aback at my own voice, how strong, confident, and melodic it is. I am there, man. I am speaking from my roots, I am present. Gradually I am letting go and returning to me. I am Jennifer. I am Jennifer.

***

The afternoon session with Devarshi stars off with, as always, music. We all enter and dance, this time it being more meaningful because we have been silent with our voices. It was a slow, mellow, soul-bearing melody, folksy, full of sways and spins. Devarshi danced along with us–he was definitely cool in my book. His talk about The Bhagavad Gita was profound and provocative, that life is a battle, the reason for fighting lies within ourselves, and that the only way to find god is just to look a little closer. Look! Look! Look! Experience everything fully, good or bad. See the world like a baby, like an alien. Be curious. Live in the inquiry.

In yoga, Devarshi says, the postures are just the chip (versus the dip, the deeper stuff). When something is fully experienced, no matter how bad/big, there is bliss. “‘Is that so (lofty)’ versus ‘Is.That.So’ (wow, here’s an experience).” Babies have no filters; they experience everything at the present, devour everything as it comes. What is happening now? Living in the inquiry, the mystery. Book. Bird. They fly with the bird, not just label it.

To emphasize that point, we are asked to go outside and explore our surroundings as if we are aliens landing on a new planet, to experience life as it is. So there we are, 65 of us crawling on the asphalt, picking at the grass, squinting curiously into the sun. I play with ivy and find a ladybug. I play with some pine needles as though I am a cat. Even feeling the movement of air around me becomes a different experience.

***

Jurian leads the afternoon sadhana, an intense class of emotional sweat and vigor. A bunch of hara pratapana and postures like Bird of Paradise, bakasana, and side crane– whew! I was totally into the class, loving the release. I found myself crying during a warrior/goddess kumbhaka pratapana, just because stuff needed to get out.

***

Tonight is our free night, but a lot of us end up back in Shadowbrook anyway for an open mic jam, starring S. and L. L. did back-up vocals, and random people popped in to listen or participate. L. sang “What a Night,” S. did “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” and then J. and I danced to “Building a Mystery.” A fun, spontaneous evening.

***

Observations:

• G. does his own sh** during every sadhana, and that is annoying and disrespectful. I know Kripalu yoga is very open about exploring your body and listening to what movement you need, but he just goes off into LaLa Land all the time. I must stop setting up my mat next to his.

• My jaw doesn’t hurt so much anymore now that I’m talking again.

This past week has been a little dizzying, and Bryan and I have been trying to ho-ho-ha-ha-ha our way through a testy George Foreman Grill, a cracked kitchen sink and the installation of a new one (shout-out to my dad, who spent about 2.5 hours squeezed into the bowels of our kitchen cabinetry), and the demise of Bryan’s 10-year-old Hyundai and subsequent purchase of a new (used) car, complete with test-driving vehicles on a windy, rainy Wednesday night in rush-hour traffic.

Whee!

As such, I’ve neglected to pay tribute to the honest-to-gosh things that have recently put a smile on my face. Of note:

Late-Season Tomatoes

As usual, our tomato plants showed promise at the beginning of the season, produced a few good ones (the rest were devoured by squirrels and rabbits), and then withered into nothingness somewhere around late August. We went on vacation in early September, completely neglecting the plants and never once looking back. Yet abandonment makes the vines grow stronger (or perhaps it was the 279 gallons of rain we got this summer), because earlier this month these guys made an appearance on the sagging, droopy plants:

And they were amazing! Firm, red, with very few seeds, and not the least bit watery. Bonus: We got to them before those darn squirrels.

Toddler Time

As I’ve already mentioned, I am in love with my friends Emma and Peter’s daughter, Bella. She is a one-person show, and she is so entertaining that I could see people paying to witness her side-splitting expressions, silly dances, and toddler babble. I recently got to hang out with her all afternoon during her 2nd birthday party, which featured almost zen-like gift unwrapping (surely to turn into monster shreddage-unwrapping by next year), train rides on Thomas the Tank Engine, and the requisite cake time!

(Not pictured: Bella’s grandfather leaning a little too far back in his chair and falling to the garage floor in slow-mo. We all held our breath…and then busted up laughing as he gave the thumbs-up from the ground.) 🙂

Our gift to Bella was Disney related, of course: a baby doll version of Ariel. I brainwashed Bella into acknowledging that it was her most favorite present of the bunch, and it was a success.

Two-year-olds don't quite grasp the concept of "Say Cheese!"

My impression of Bella

She played with the doll all evening, much better than the time as a newborn she broke out into tears when her momma placed the Mickey Mouse plush I purchased in her arms.

She even crafted a seasonally appropriate thank-you card for us:

Indian Summer

The same weekend as Bella’s birthday, Bryan and I went down the shore for the day. The forecast called for temps in the mid-80s at home, so we took the opportunity to experience Ocean City in October. It was surprisingly warm (what ocean breeze?!), so much that Bryan had to buy a pair of shorts on the boardwalk and ditch his jeans.

I was excited to walk on the sand without a beach tag and, since lifeguard season is over, pose contemplatively on the algae-covered jetty.

We intentionally parked several blocks away from the main boardwalk so we could get in plenty of walking time, making us feel a little less guilty for indulging in super-huge slices of pizza and frozen desserts. (It also balanced out all the time we spent sitting in traffic on the drive home, since the rest of the world had the same idea about going to the shore.)

Where one slice is enough!

We played a round of miniature golf and took note of all the migrating monarch butterflies fluttering over the boardwalk wildflowers. I wish I had a picture of the butterflies—they were all over the place!

Ego Boosters

I don’t toot my own horn much, but two personal accomplishments last week really made me beam: (a) I found out that I passed a super-hard exam I took last month that officially makes me an Editor in the Life Sciences (complete with credentials that no one but our little circle of nerdy editors will understand), and (b) a triathlon coach at my gym praised my swimming skills. I told her that I was interested in taking her freestyle swim lessons (intended to improve your technique), and she looked at me and said, “Nah, you don’t need that.” I went on to explain that other than childhood lessons at the Y, I’ve had no other training and was looking to improve my form. Again, she said, “I’ve seen you swim. You’re fine.” Maybe it’s because I feel like my hip slows me down and that it compromises my kick, but few times when I swim do I feel confident about how I’m putting it all (kick, arms, breathing) together. My little pseuo-panic attack back in June wasn’t really boosting my self-esteem either.

But apparently I’m just a smidge above OK when it comes to editing and swimming. It feels awkward, but I guess I’ll give my ego horn a little ::toot toot::

Nature Walks

Every morning during my walks through the park, I see the changing leaves, curious deer, and sometimes even a wild turkey or four. This will be a separate post to come, though. Too much excitement to cover in this already overloaded post!

So it’s been about one week since I left my happy place.

Not gonna lie…it hasn’t been easy. Despite this being my 12th trip to Walt Disney World (and 13th Disney trip, if you count last year’s Disneyland), I still come home with a bad case of PDD (post-Disney depression) that leaves me unable to watch Disney commercials or listen to Disney music for a solid month without immediately tearing up. Coming home from vacation is hard enough, but when you’re going from a land of pixie dust and parades and nightly fireworks to, well, New Jersey, it’s slightly more difficult than just returning from a week down the shore.

Leftover caramel-glazed apple pie for breakfast

Instead of getting "the finger" on your morning commute, you get "the hand."

9 a.m. meetings are replaced with morning photo shoots

This is your home for a week

The view from the pool during your morning swim

International amigos

Outpouring of love

Where monsters aren't scary

On the set of a fairy tale

Unlimited milkshakes

Dance-offs with dogs

The only time you're actually happy to see a mouse in the house

Because it’s geographically and financially unfeasible to visit my #1 happy place on a regular basis, I’ve spent the past week trying to figure out where my closer-to-home happy places are, places that don’t require airline tickets and a week off from work. They may not include all the bells and whistles (and parades and fireworks) of Disney World, but they make me smile and are my go-to places when I need some everyday magic.

Happy Place #1: My Living Room Floor

Although I absolutely loved our rustic-feeling hotel room at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, it was very tight on space and I had little room to do my morning/evening stretches and wake-up routine. Sun salutations took place in the narrow entrance way between the bathroom and the closet, and to do viparita karani (legs on the wall) at night (a necessity after days of walking anywhere from 8 to 16 miles), I had to squeeze myself between the TV cabinet and table, the only wall space available.

At home, the living room floor is my stretching oasis, the place I go to every morning to twist and stretch and rock and roll. I can do downdogs and warriors without banging my hands into the wall or on the ceiling lamp, and I can lie on the floor in cobra without being skeeved out about who (or what) was on the carpet before me.

Morning routine: Pee, brush teeth, roll

In addition, my living room allows me the space to DANCE! 🙂

Happy Place #2: Poang Chairs

When I’m not dancing or rolling around in my living room, I’m seated comfortably in one of our IKEA Poang chairs, in front of the TV.

Shhh...it's a pack of Poangs!

I’m not particularly a fan of the boob-tube, but I do love our Netflix subscription that allows us to watch streaming shows and movies via our Nintendo Wii system.

Instead of watching TV shows in real-time, Bryan and I have instead been plowing through entire series of shows through Netflix streaming. That way we don’t have to wait weeks in-between episodes or feel like we lost 6 years of our life if a show ends badly (::coughcoughLOSTcoughcough::). Most recently, we completed the 202 episodes of 24, a series that had us glued to the Poangs for months. I became very attached to the characters and screamed, shouted, and cried along with them. It was a very emotional ending, almost as heart-wrenching as leaving Disney World! Mickey Mouse, Jack Bauer…I love you both!

Netflix is also my source for rare, hard-to-find movies and documentaries. Sure, I’ll watch Tangled the week I return from the World (gotta catch up on my Disney princess knowledge), but this same week I’ve also watched Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (Christmas is less than 100 days away…juicer, please?!), half of the PBS special Doctors’ Diaries, and–OMG, the cutest movie in the world–Gotta Dance.

PHOTO: Gotta Dance & NBA Entertainment

Remember that documentary a few years ago, Young @ Heart, the one about the group of seniors who sing contemporary music? Well, this is the same thing…but with DANCE. The movie documents the inaugural season of the NETsationals dance team, a group of 13 seniors ages 59 to 83 who dance hip hip for the New Jersey Nets (in the photo above, their jersey numbers indicate their age). A few had amateur dancing experience (ballroom, tap), some had danced recreationally, and none had ever done hip hop before. These folks are living proof that age is just a number and old dogs CAN learn new tricks. Heartwarming, uplifting, inspirational…this movie a shot of the warm and fuzzy feel-goods without the overly sappy chicken noodle soup for the soul. I stood on my feet and applauded the TV during their first live performance! I could watch this again and again–and probably will.

Happy Place #3: Red Bank Battlefield

I am fortunate to live near several parks (all very nice, too!), but my favorite by far is Red Bank. It’s a national park, so it’s well kept and clean; it attracts a lot of cute older couples (I once witnessed an older husband and wife unwrap a particularly challenging Werther’s Original candy together); and, being directly across the Delaware River from the Philly airport, there are PLANES! Lots of them! As I’ve written again and again, I am obsessed with plane watching. I will say I don’t care, but then I’ll hear the roar of a jet engine, and immediately my eyes go to the sky. I’m particularly fond of Southwest jets (one, they represent our transportation to Florida; two, they are the most colorful of the liveries), cargo jets (HUUUUGE!), and planes that are taking off in my direction.

Sometimes I’ll go to the park before work (quiet and peaceful), other times after work (more traffic but interesting characters), and sometimes on the weekend with Bryan for reading-under-a-tree time. A loop around the park is a little over a mile, and nowadays you can almost always spot a deer or three, which have become acclimated to human beings and don’t even bat an eyelash when you’re walking their way. The other morning I walked past six deer (including two males with giant antlers), one only inches from me!

It’s a good thing I appreciate the solitude of the park in the morning, because soon that’s the only time I’ll be able to go; the park closes at sunset, and as I much as I pray that it won’t happen, there will come a time this year that I leave work and it’s dark out. Where to go when my Disney World closes at dusk?!

So those are my non-Disney World happy places, accessible within minutes. If I’m willing to drive a little longer and pack a few more things, next on the list are (a) my gym, for a solo swimming session; (b) the yoga studio, for a 5Rhythms class; and (c) the Jersey shore!

What places do you return to when you need some magic?

The other day I finally fulfilled my desire to spend a day down the shore. I get anxious and antsy when summer weather kicks in and I have yet to see the ocean; summer is already so fleeting, and I feel like once Memorial Day hits, a countdown clock to doomsday (cold weather, dark nights) starts ticking. I have do everything NOW!

I feel very fortunate to live in such an area where I can grab a few dollar bills, spare quarters, hop in the car, and in just over an hour be surrounded by surf and sand. I was giddy on the car ride down, my anticipation and excitement doubling once I hit the rest stop on the AC Expressway.

Signage that tickles me pink. The beach beckons!

Going over the causeway...the final gate to Ocean City!

The causeway, which links the shore points to Jersey mainland, is like the rainbow to Oz. Once you cross over the bridge, only good things lie ahead.

I made the mistake of taking off my sandals to walk from the boardwalk to the ocean. I was expecting the sand to be hot but not scorching. It was like walking on burning coals, and I nearly collapsed onto a stranger’s blanket just so I could save my feet. I could feel the heat rising from my soles to my knees to my thighs; it was an awful, awful feeling, and I thought I was going to need medical attention.

Save my feet!

Relieeeeeef. I made it to the ocean just in time.

Bad sand!

One of my most brilliant decisions of the trip was to wear running shorts for the day, the kind with the built-in underwear. It was so stinkin’ hot and humid that day, even down the shore, so I felt pretty relaxed and comfy. 🙂

Smiles all around!

I was by myself that day and didn’t have my photographer husband on hand to snap shots of me by the ocean. So I was so happy when I found a woman lying on the beach who volunteered to be my interim photog. It turns out we live only minutes away from each other! She was so friendly and encouraged me to “work it” for the camera!

In fact, I had a really great time connecting with people that day. I struck up conversations with shopkeepers, a guy playing a djembe on the boardwalk, a teenage boy who didn’t want sprinkles on his custard (“That’s so un-American!” I said), a group of seniors who needed help taking pictures with their cell phone, the owner of a hippie clothes/jewelry store who told me fascinating stories about sweat lodges and a customer from Nepal, a girl who was cheering to a group of friends on the beach:

and a group of teenage girls eating ice cream on the boardwalk:

I loved them so much that I asked to take a front-facing shot of them. They were all giggly and honored.

I took LOTS of people shots over the course of the day. The boardwalk and beach is a smorgasbord of photo-worthy individuals.

Girl on beach gets happy text message.

Looks like it could be a cover of a Baby-Sitters Club: Beach Edition book.

"I like long walks on the beach..."

Half and half.

One fancy beach chair!

Even scruffy guys eat custard.

I was a bit obsessed with taking photos of older couples too. They are cute and romantic, and it made my heart swell for my own husband.

This could totally be me and Bryan in the future. "My aching hips!"

It didn’t help that I had PMS, and I was passing all of these “memorial” benches on the boardwalk. They all seemed to be dedicated to older couples and dead spouses. I got really choked up at times!

The boardwalk really is a perfect “resting” place, though. It’s nice to just sit down and observe the sights, sounds, and smells around you.

That's Atlantic City somewhere behind the haze.

Don't get caught walking in the bicycle lane on a busy day. You'll get run over!

Even the TV stations find the boardwalk worthy of broadcasting:

She flubbed up her lines several times. It was fun to watch her keep re-doing the scene.

The insides of the shops along the boardwalk are also entertaining.

All the jewelry you need, and then some.

Christmas 24/7/365.

Need to hang this in the bathroom at work!

Pseudo shout-out to my blog!

Fudge making!

...at least I HOPE that's fudge...

Finished fudge.

Bizarro cheap clothes and junk shop.

Salt water taffy heaven.

As you can see, one of the BEST parts of being down the shore is the food. Sometimes a trip to the boardwalk really isn’t so much about catching waves or feeling your toes in the sand as it is about deciding what treat to eat next.

My eating adventure began with lunch at the Bashful Banana. It’s tucked off the main drag and is one of the only places on the boardwalk where you can get vegetarian, vegan, and clean, healthy eats.

Veggie burger on multi-grain bun with mushrooms, onions, Swiss, and turkey bacon. Side of fresh fruit.

Relaxing lunch in the shade.

I returned to the Bashful Banana a few hours later for my second treat: their famous “Banana Whip” dessert. It tastes like custard, but it’s only frozen banana + water. No dairy, no binders, nothing but fruit. I ordered a banana + strawberry whip with peanut butter chips, walnuts, and fudge sauce made from fruit.

The bottom was nothing but the peanut butter chips and fudge sauce. Mmmm...

For dinner I hit up Mack & Manco’s. It’s sacrilege to visit Ocean City and NOT get Mack & Manco’s pizza.

My final treat was Kohr Bros. custard. Although I love the vegan options that Bashful Banana serves, I do not follow a vegan diet and do not hesitate to get a classic vanilla custard with chocolate sprinkles/jimmies.

My visit down the shore lasted from noon till about 7:15, when I reluctantly decided to walk back to my car. I passed an older couple on their cell phone, talking to a friend: “It’s a little breezy right now, but the sun is shining. It’s beautiful. It’s just a beautiful day down here.”

A day at the shore contains so many stimuli, and driving home proved just to be as engaging. I swerved to avoid a giant turtle crossing the highway, and then I drove from blue skies to what looked like the end of the world. Black clouds–not even gray–loomed in front of me, and every time lightning flashed I could see the sunny sky behind all the doom and gloom. It was wild–and scary! An intense ending to an otherwise peaceful day.

I had a family obligation yesterday morning that had me dressed in business attire and stuck in an office for 2 hours with another 2 hours on the road, which is torture in itself but even moreso when the sunny sky and warm temps made yesterday one of The Most Beautiful Days in the World. On the drive home, sitting in the car in my black pants and black blazer, I fidgeted like a kid before recess, declaring that all I wanted to do was change into my play clothes and frolic outside! All the usual demands of the weekend–laundry, cleaning, sorting through a week’s worth of mail–automatically switch to “low priority” when Mother Nature gives us a beaut like yesterday. I spend so much time in the winter complaining about the dark and cold that I feel like I have to take advantage of every awesome day that comes our way.

After grabbing lunch at one of my favorite juice and burrito cafes (no burrito juice, however) and changing out of my stuffy office attire, Bryan and I headed to Red Bank Battlefield, which I’ve written about on here before. It’s one of our favorite “nice day” places to hang out, a sprawling park on the edge of the Delaware River, directly across from Philadelphia International Airport (perfect for plane watching!).

A new plane every 90 seconds!

Obligatory couple shot.

Pre-pubescent goose and parent. Hasn't reached the "God, Mom, you're so embarrassing" stage yet.

Canada geese. You're so darn cute when you're little, but then you get older and we hate you.

Sun and skyline.

Vrksasana break!

While we were walking around the park, we noticed a wedding party posing for photographs. They couldn’t have chosen a better day to get hitched (especially since the world didn’t end, as predicted).


We toted along some blankets, chairs, books, and magazines for some quality riverside reading time. Bryan prepped the space…

…and then I promptly fell asleep. I had been awake since 5:15 and was dragging at that point. I always feel the urge to nap but rarely actually follow through with it. Yesterday was an exception: I conked out for close to an hour but was delighted to do so under a big tree and wearing a tank top without being chilly. This is the stuff I dream about from November through April.

Bryan likes to put lobsters on me while sleeping.

Days like yesterday are my fuel. They revive my engine, bring light into my heart, and make me focus on the positive. They remind me of all the good things I’ve been wanting to write about and share, stuff like:

The mind and body studio in my gym is my secret getaway spot when the urge to dance calls. Every now and then, like this past Friday, I’ll be minding my own business, lifting weights, swinging a kettlebell, or stretching, and something on my iPod comes on that just hits me in the solar plexus, and suddenly my body says, “Dance! I must dance! Get thee to a wide open space and move, please!” It’s almost like a sickness, like a feeling of nausea that you know must exit soon, but not as gross. Just very urgent, and you know that if you hold it in, you’re going to feel (psychological) discomfort for the rest of the day. Luckily, my gym’s yoga studio was free that Friday afternoon, and I was able to sneak inside, pump up the volume on my iPod, and just dannnnnce. Twenty-five minutes later, I emerged a little sweatier and very satisfied.

I am actually, like, 95% “cool” with my yoga teacher’s languaging. I tend to be very critical about what teachers say in class and how they say it (I can’t help it; I’m like the Larry David of yoga students), and if something irritates me too much for too long, I’ll turn to a podcast for class instead, like the one teacher who said “really” in almost every sentence (“Really feel your sitz bones pressing into the ground,” “Really lengthen the breath,” “Really press those feet into the mat and really feel alive”). But the teacher I go to now, aside from some “blossoming like a lotus” stuff she starts off with every now and then, is very mindful about her choice of words and what she says to the class. For example, there is a pregnant woman in the class, and as the teacher is showing her modifications she says, “Now, as the baby grows, you’re going to have to adjust your legs like this…” Notice it’s “as the baby grows,” not “as you get bigger.” Yeah, yeah, it’s the same thing, but I’m a semantics freak (and a woman), so I know how choice of words can make a huge difference. The teacher is also very careful not to showcase certain students; meaning, if someone goes into a perfect Bird of Paradise or scorpion, the teacher doesn’t blurt out, “Everyone, look at Heather! See, that’s how it should be done,” making those less flexible or with limitations feel inferior.

My Fake Mom Carrol and her (real) daughter went to Kripalu this weekend for an R&R. Knowing how much I love the place, she sent me an e-mail yesterday (“Hi from Kripalu”) describing her afternoon yoga class, deep (emotionally and physically) massage, big changes, fresh whipped mango sauce, and a neti pot workshop. “Love carrol ( you are here in my heart and spirit can you feel it)?”, she closed. Instead of feeling jealous about her getaway, her e-mail made me so happy for her. Her daughter melted my heart, too. She tagged me on this photo she posted to Facebook:

"This one's for you, Jen!", Vee wrote from Kripalu.

I’ve switched up my morning meditation a bit. Instead of sitting down and starting right away with a mudra meditation, I do 5 minutes of nadi shodhana pranayama (alternate nostril breathing), finish with solely right-nostril breathing (it’s the “solar” side; it’s a good early-morning energizer), and then do whatever mudra feels appropriate. Meditation is A LOT easier after opening the lungs and waking up those brain cells!

There is no better time for early-morning walks than this time of year. Each morning the sun rises a smidgen sooner, and there is something so satisfying about standing in the bathroom at 5:20 a.m., brushing my teeth in the faint glow of the sky starting to illuminate without the need to flip on the light. The sun is my beacon, and as soon as it starts to rise, I feel like an anxious kid who needs to get outside an plaaaaay already.

I have been sleeping past my normal wake time this week and thus haven’t had a chance to fit in a walk with all of my other morning prep rituals, but yesterday (and today) I was up in time. However, once I was up and stretching and preparing my lunch and stirring the coconut milk creamer in my coffee, I decided to switch things up and leave the house for work 30 minutes early and stop at a nearby park, to do my walk immediately before going into the office. That way, instead of going right from sitting in my car to sitting at my desk, I could come into the office fresh from a sunny walk!

Yesterday morning was just the epitome of a beautiful spring day. Temps in the low 60s, white puffy clouds among a bright blue sky, birds chirping, planes descending into the nearby airport, and cows (regular one, not those punkish Scottish Highland ones) from the adjacent farm mooing. A quick 20-minute walk in surroundings like that–plus my coffee and a bowl of Kashi Go Lean with fresh strawberries at my desk–was a great way to start the work day. (Note: I did the same routine today but it was overcast and not as Disney-esque. And I needed a jacket.)

Speaking of walking, I recently realized that I am obsessed with watching other people walk. Like, really watch them walk. I don’t know if it’s the dancer in me, the fact that I practice yoga and understand the art of good posture, or that I have so many issues myself with my feet and hips, but when I’m walking around the mall or downtown or behind someone at work on their way to the bathroom, my eyes immediately zone into their feet, hips, and back, and not in a “Wowee-wow-wow, look at those Shakira hips!” way but in a “Wow, those high heels are making your ankles collapse in, and your shoulders are all hunched up by your ears! You’re going to be in so much pain when you get older!” way (says the wise, knowledgeable 30-year-old).

Maybe in my former lifetime I was a salesperson at a specialty running store and watched people’s gaits for a living and determined whether they were pronators, supinators, or neutrals. But seriously, I love looking at feet. (I recently declared to my husband that I should have been a podiatrist…to which I responded, “Ahh, nevermind. Then I’d have to clip old people’s toenails.”)

I was horrified last weekend when we were walking through town and I noticed a woman in front of us wearing those damn Shape-Ups. With each step she took, the woman’s ankles were completely rolling in. It was so significant that even my husband, who doesn’t care in the least about other people’s biomechanics, noticed. Just another reason why I think Shape-Ups are the Devil’s sneakers.

All the time, I see people running with the most awkward strides and foot motions, and I feel the need to comment (to myself, of course. Or my husband). One time we passed a guy with a knee  jutting out, his foot all floppy, and his torso all loosey-goosey. “How is it that he’s not in physical therapy every day?!” I asked incredulously. “Just wait!”

On the flip side, my heart flutters when I see someone with perfect posture and balance. Take the famous yoga teacher Angela Farmer:

She was a presenter when I was at Kripalu; I didn’t take any of her classes, but just passing her in the hallway was satisfying enough for me. Angela was as poised as a Greek goddess, her body practically floating down the corridors. Even the way she lifted her hands at the cafeteria buffet was a dance, each finger curling and extending with the most graceful act of mindfulness. It wasn’t pretentious either—not the least bit of “holier than thou” attitude. It was pure elegance and total body awareness. I never once spoke with her, but man, I totally want to be like Angela when I grow up!

I try hard to maintain a steady posture and stance when walking (forget sitting…I turn into a slumped sack of potatoes when proofreading),

Slumped over like a pug with poor posture

to the point where several people have asked me “Are you a dancer?” in non-dance settings, including on the weight floor at the gym and in a pizza shop when I was 13.   I had always taken pride in being asked that, even as recently as last year, when I wasn’t taking technique classes anymore but I guess still maintained that “look.” So I was devastated when, after I first busted my hip last year, my yoga teacher watched me walk across the room and told me I have a limp. ?!&$*&@&!! Now *I* was the one with the goofy-looking gait! And then, during my physical therapy sessions, my PT noticed that I tended to walk with my hips shifted to one side. Who am I?!?!?

It is reassuring, then, that one of my coworkers in the marketing department, who works specifically with PT textbooks and several on gait analysis, told me that no one has a perfect gait (except maybe Angela Farmer). There are a million factors that contribute to gait (toes, ankles, knees, hips, core, shoulders, so on and so forth) and when just one is “off,” there goes the picture-perfect anatomical model who walks with everything in line. What that means is that even in my dancing heyday I was never perfect, I’m not perfect now, and I never will be. Even so, that won’t stop me from being overly curious and fascinated with other people’s bodies and the way they carry them. And I’ll never stop hating Shape-Ups.

In honor of it being Earth Day, today’s flashback takes us to 2007, when Bryan and I went on our first real kayaking outing together. It was beautiful! Kind of scary! And because I drank a whole lotta coffee before our 4-hour adventure, the excursion was not without plenty of stops to use nature’s toilet–the earth, of course.

(Originally written in 2007.)

_______________________________________________

Do you know that until today I have never peed in the woods?

I’ve squatted before — in China — so I was prepared for the act, just not for the surroundings. Bryan and I were in the boonies of Burlington County, celebrating his 28th birthday with a surprise kayaking trip along the Batsto River. It’s a 4-hour journey through the Pinelands, so I knew ahead of time that would be urinating on God’s green earth. And several times, in fact.

But I digress. Let me start from the beginning. Ever since our little paddle experience a couple of months ago along the Maurice River in Cumberland County, Bryan has been obsessed with kayaks. As in, he wants one. So for his birthday, I booked this kayaking trip with this little canoe/kayak outfitter in Shamong Township. You drive to their headquarters, hop in their van, and they drive you through the woods to the launch site, where they give you your kayak, paddle, life vest, and a “goodbye, we’ll see you in 4 hours.” When you arrive at the endpoint, there’s someone there to drive you back to the headquarters.

For two people whose only kayaking experience had been a 30-minute “test drive” on a wide and straight river, we truly learned by trial and error this time around. The river we were on today was in the middle of the woods, in the middle of nowhere. It was narrow, it was twisty. Fallen trees formed natural archways and road blocks. Our paddles got tangled in seaweed. The sun was so bright at times that you couldn’t see anything in your path and it felt like we were paddling into a big, black hole. We plowed into muddy banks, got wedged against submerged tree trunks, and scraped against low-hanging branches (and I have a scratched-up arm to prove it!).

We didn’t know the route, and we didn’t know precisely how long it would take us. The entire journey was an adventure into the Unknown, each turn a surprise. Every time we rounded a corner, I felt like I was entering a new mythical territory. The collapsed trees–and those near collapsing–looked like giant butresses, and sometimes I felt like I was a character in Lord of the Rings, Neverending Story, Narnia.

It was Quiet. Absolute seclusion. Whenever we took a break from paddling and just let the current carry us along, the absence of sound around us was chilling. And then when you dunked your paddle in the water again, the noise sounded like breaking glass.

We passed several small beaches, stopping for water, food, and bathroom breaks. I had to pee so badly on our first stop that when I finally did let loose, it was like that scene from Austin Powers where it. just. never. stops. The grass brushed up against my ass, and I feared spiders would get in my butt and start making a web.

Running to the "bathroom"

As far as scenery, it wasn’t spectacular. The changing of the leaves will probably start next week, so today was mostly fading green and lots and lots of pine trees. Sometimes the reflection of the clouds and trees in the water was pretty, and we did pass a few turtles. (One was doing yoga, I swear, maybe Warrior III? Its back leg was extended straight out behind him.) The few white lily pad flowers we saw were diamonds in the rough, and one beach we passed had some people on horseback mosying along. We couldn’t have asked for a better day weatherwise, though. I mean, the last day of September, almost 80 degrees, and perfectly sunny with a super-slight breeze.

Our final leg was through some marshy waters, and I got a little panicky here because it was all out in the open, as opposed to the tiny narrow wooded path we had been following. The area was so wide and expansive, and it was difficult to tell which way to go. I didn’t know where the endpoint was for sure, and, sure enough, we paddled right instead of left and ended up going totally out of our way before we got on course again. Seeing that “Canoe Landing” sign was a relief, and my hands, arms, shoulders, back, and chest screamed out, “Don’t you dare do any upper body work at the gym for the next 3 days, AT LEAST!”

Ain't no one gonna mess with a woman with a paddle.

I ate an apple during the return trip and it was the most wonderful fruit ever. It’s amazing how famished one gets while kayaking. Bryan and I rewarded ourselves with frappuccinos from Starbucks, and ohmigod the sugar and the cold and the sweet was deliiiiiiicious.

About the Author

Name: Jennifer

Location: Greater Philadelphia Area

Blog Mission:
SHARE my practice experience in conscious dance and yoga,

EXPAND my network of like-minded individuals,

FULFILL my desire to work with words in a more creative and community-building capacity;

FLOW and GROW with the world around me!

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